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Empowering Women Rebuilding the Society

"To awaken the people, it is the women who must be awakened. Once she is on the move, the family moves, the village moves, the nation moves".-Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

In India, today, women appear to rule the roost. India as a nation is revered in a feminine form i.e. 'the Bharat Mata', the first citizen of our country presently is a woman, many important government posts are occupied by women and educated women are pouring into the professional workforce with profound implications for national and multinational corporations. However, ironically, these are accompanied by news about dowry killings, female infanticide, domestic violence against women, sexual harassment, rape, illegal trafficking and prostitution and myriad others of the same ilk. Gender discrimination prevails in almost all areas, be it social, cultural, economic or educational. An effective remedy for these evils needs to be sought in order to ensure the Right to Equality guaranteed by the Constitution of India, to the fairer sex. Gender equality facilitates the empowerment of women. Since education begins at home, the upliftment of women would be accompanied by the development of the family, the society and in turn, would lead towards a holistic development of the nation.

Among these problems the foremost that needs to be addressed is the atrocity committed against females at birth and during childhood. Female infanticide i.e. killing of the female child is still a common practice in many of the rural areas. Further female foeticide is common in some parts of India, despite the passage of 'Prenatal Diagnostic techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act in 1994. In case they survive, they are subjected to discrimination throughout their lives. Traditionally, since sons are thought to take care of their parents during old age and daughters are considered a burden because of dowry and other expenses that have to be incurred during their marriage, female children are neglected in the matters of nutrition, education and other important aspects of well-being. The Sex ratio in our country is abysmally low. It was only 933 females per 1000 males according to the 2001 census. The Sex ratio is an important indicator of development. Developed countries usually have Sex ratios above 1000. For instance, the USA has a Sex ratio of 1029, Japan 1041 and Russia 1140. In India, Kerala is the state with the highest Sex ratio of 1058 and Haryana is one with the lowest value of 861.

During their youth, females face the problem of early marriage and childbirth. They are not cared for properly during pregnancy leading to many cases of maternal mortality. The MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate) i.e. the number of females dying during delivery per one lakh persons, in India is 437(as in 1995). In addition, they are subjected to harassment for dowry and other forms of domestic violence. Further, at the work place, public places and elsewhere, acts of violence, exploitation and discrimination are rampant.

Various steps have been taken by the government to prevent such abuses and to empower women. Criminal laws against sati, dowry, female infanticide and foeticide, 'eve teasing', rape, immoral trafficking and other offences relating to women have been enacted in addition to civil laws like the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939, the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and other Matrimonial enactments. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act has been passed in 2015. A National Commission for Women (NCW) has been set up. Other measures by the government include provision of reservation in representation and education, allocation for the welfare of women in the five year plans, provision of subsidized loan facilities and so on. The year 2001 has been declared as the 'women empowerment year' by the Government of India and 24th January as the National Girl Child Day.

The 108th Constitutional Amendment Bill, popularly known as the Women's Reservation Bill which seeks to reserve one-third of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies has been a highlight in the recent times. It was 'passed' in the Rajya Sabha on March 9th 2010. Though well intended, it can have little, if any, tangible consequences for the real empowerment of women since it does not touch upon the core issues which plague them. The solution must envisage a two-pronged attack, on the one hand, on tradition which is responsible for assigning a low status for women in the society and on the other hand, the outrages perpetrated against them. The proposed 'Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace' Bill, 2010 is a good move in that direction. Mass campaigns need to be organized especially in the villages in favour of survival of the female child and provision of human rights for her, including education and health. It is essential to dispel the ghosts of the past and place women on an equal footing with men in order to pave the way for their empowerment, social, economic and educational. Empowering women and thus rebuilding the society would take the nation on a path of greater development, as Swami Vivekananda says, "Countries and Nations which do not respect women have never become great nor will ever be in future".

Dr.Purvaja Mahadevan